Recently, I went on safari in Botswana with my sister. Our two tour guides were wonderfully knowledgeable, imparting gems of information about the various animals we were blessed to see.
Families of elephants lumbering across the grassland, the adults ensuring the little ones were protected by being contained in the middle of the group. Lions basking in the sun, hippo’s wallowing in water and water buffalo with their watery, soulful eyes, grazing. Weary impala’s constantly on the look-out for danger, and herds of zebra’s, Botswana’s national animal, with their distinctive markings. Crocodiles lazing on river banks, lone leopards stalking and ungainly giraffes. Isn’t it ironic that, with such spindly legs and ridiculously long necks, a giraffes every movement is executed with smooth gracefulness? Ahhh, giraffes, the cat-walk models of the animal kingdom!
And the birds: perched high in trees the eagle-eyed fish eagles, and vultures awaiting their turn at a carcass. Scurrying guinea-fowl, multi-coloured lilac breasted rollers, curious kingfishers and delicate flamingo’s. But the one that intrigued me, caught my imagination were the little indistinct Sparrow-Weavers, for their unusual conical nest’s and courting rituals.
I’ve Got You, Babe!
Eloise Carlotta Sparrow.
“Oh, Eloise. You needn’t worry about not being chosen. Look at you, you’re stunning! Your feathers glimmer in the sunlight, your captivating eyes are truly entrancing and your harmonious tweets are the sweetest notes ever tweeted in these branches. No, you’ll have those strutting, egotistical males falling at your delicate, nimble claws, begging you to choose their nest like the love-sick avis’s they are,” chirps my dear friend Freya, as we perch on the highest branch, her wing around my shoulder as we watch those love-sick male Sparrow Weavers furiously weave their nests. I snuggle into her warm embrace, softly tweeting a melody.
“Your biggest problem, Eloise, will be choosing the most suitable suitor. Tell me, who do you fancy?”
“Well,” I hesitate.
“Go on, you can tell me. I’ll not tweet. I can keep a secret.”
“My mother – you know what she’s like – advises me to be practical and to choose carefully. She says the first flush of romance quickly fades once they,” and I indicate the busy nest builders below with my free wing, “entice you into their nest. She says, don’t go all gooey eyed and lose your senses over some good looking Casa Nova. Look at your Aunt Bernice. She became a slave to her unrequited love for that hapless Casa Nova she fell so madly in love with. ‘You don’t want that life, my dear daughter. Ask yourself, can your suitor construct a safe, sturdy home and provide adequately for your brood, once they come along.’”
“Do you agree with this sentiment?” Freya nudges me playfully.
“Yes and no. On one wing, it is sensible advise but then on the other, I want to experience deep, uncontrollable, rapid heart-beating wild, love.”
“Wow! So lets consider your options here. First there’s Marvin. Now Marvin wins every flight race, wings down and he is nimble on his feet. Look at him now, hopping around with such ease. He’d certainly be reliable as a gatherer of nourishment for your brood.”
“That’s true,” I concede. “But will he provide the affection I crave? I mean, he spends hours working out, doesn’t he? His body is his temple, as he so eloquently puts it. I wonder if he loves himself too much to be able to love someone else.”
“Hmmm, true. Okay, let’s consider Charles the Third. What are his attributes? Look at him. He’s meticulous with constructing his nest, carefully considering the placement of every single twig, and if he pays that much attention to a twig, imagine him as a life-mate. He’d dote on you for sure. That’s got to be a plus, don’t you think?”
“That’s the point. Doting is suffocating. Doting is not in the same realm as wild, hedonistic, passionate love.”
After a moment of silence, I add “And Charles the Third is somewhat conceited and pompous. A pompous mate would be boring.”
“Ah, but as your mother so rightly pointed out, wild, hedonistic, passionate love quickly fades once you cross the thresh-hold.”
“Not necessarily. Passion can survive.”
“Do you really believe that?” Freya’s wing around my shoulder slackens a little and her chirpy reply is tinged with annoyance. “And what about your Aunt Bernice? Isn’t her life a testament of doom?”
Ignoring her jibe, I slowly begin to unravel my thoughts. “It’s Harvey Weaver I’m interested in.”
“Oh, no. You can’t be serious! That scally-wag? You’d be throwing your life away.”
“Just listen for a moment. Harvey is a wit. He’s fun to be around. He makes me laugh and his baritone tweeting has me all of a quiver.”
“Yes, but… .” Freya interrupts.
“Let me finish. Best of all, he’s charming and charismatic. He is also careless and forgetful and not particularly practical. He is slap-happy with his workmanship but I know we can be happy together.”
“How? How can you be happy? You’ve just listed all his faults.”
“Ah, but that’s my point. Start as you mean to go on, more advise from my mother. I’ll not accept his first offer. I’ll find fault in his nest building.”
“That won’t be difficult,” Freya chirps, crossing her wings and tilting her head skywards.
“And I’ll discredit his second attempt, after which, I’ll inform him that I’ll be staying with my mother for three days.”
“That’ll make his feathers twitch.” Freya chirps gleefully.
“Thus letting him know, that in no uncertain terms, he is on his last chance to impress me and win my affections. As a further scare tactic and with subtleness, I’ll mention how sturdy Charles the Thirds nest is looking.”
“If Harvey Weaver envisions losing to that pompous Charles the Third, he will go to extra-ordinary lengths to win your favour.”
“Exactly. Then on my return, my mother will accompany me for the inspection. See, start as I mean to go on.”
“Ah, your cunning plan has great merit, my friend.” Freya uncrosses her wings and hugs me tightly. As the sun disappears below the horizon, we two girls twitter happily from our lofty perch atop the tree.
“Prepare to witness the drama,” I chirp to Freya.
It’s mating season and being the charismatic bird that I am, full of fun and wit, I have no problem attracting the attentions of the opposite sex – there’s one stunning young lady who I have my eye on, well both eyes actually – and normally I’d be super excited at the prospect of attracting a mate.
But in order to win the lady of my affections, I must construct the perfect home; a Sparrow Weavers Deluxe Abode able to withstand all weathers and possible enemy attacks.
Now I’m not a lazy chap, not by any means. I do my share. Just ask anyone but when it comes to nest making, well it just ain’t my thing. I find nest making so tedious. Firstly, finding a multitude of twigs of the correct length, thinness and bendability and soft, smooth leaves. Then painstakingly weaving the twigs tightly together to form the perfect shape and lining the walls and floor with the supple leaves, as outlined by the Sparrow Weavers Nest Construction code. The problem with the traditional sparrow weavers nest is the style – an entry and an exit hole is demanded – and according to the code, no deviation from the specifications is permitted. No allowance for personal, innovative technique in design: there must be the two holes and the inside must replicate an absolutely round tunnel.
I select a perfect fork at the end of a branch, mid-section of the tree for my nest and after three days of gathering the materials and weaving at a furious pace, I am ready for inspection. I’ll admit, it’s not perfect. It’ll need some D.I.Y at a later stage but from the outside, it looks pretty grand. Proudly, I flutter my wings to entice my beloved, Eloise – her name is Eloise – inside. See, the nest has to be inspected and approved by the female before they’ll contemplate cohabitation with the male, in this case, yours truly. But before I can tweet the first line of my rendition of my favourite Sonny and Cher song, ‘I’ve got you, babe’, she tweets:
“Hmmmm, interesting,” and tugs at a longish twig from the entrance, discarding it to the ground below. She then extracts another twig and drops that one to the ground.
“Harvey Weaver, if you think I’d accept such shoddy workmanship, then you are very much mistaken. To even consider presenting this nest to me, Eloise Carlotta Sparrow, is a monumental insult!” she chirps loudly as she continues to pull apart my effort, twig by twig, her wings flapping with rage.
“But, Babe I’ve spent days… “ I twitter weakly.
“Don’t Babe me. I’m not your Babe. Rebuild it and this time, do it right.” Then she pauses in her tirade and glances across the branches. “I see Charles the Third has nearly completed his nest and I must say, it looks immaculate.”
Of course, Charles the Third would have an immaculate nest. He’s such a nerd, so precise and fussy. I can’t loose my sweet Eloise to that pompous nincompoop.
From above, I hear the loud, distinctive shrieking from Freya, Eloise’s best friend. Is she laughing at me? Oh, the humiliation!
And wouldn’t you believe it? As my sweet Eloise flies up to join her friend, from across the branches Charles the Pompous chirps in a sanctimonious tone, “I take it your inspection did not go well, my friend.”
Hmmm, I mutter to myself, you’re no friend of mine: you are my rival. Think, Harvey. What would impress Eloise to the extent that she couldn’t possibly refuse your second attempt?
I work tirelessly for a day and a night and another day, without skimping on materials. I pay attention to the detail such as aligning the entry and exit holes perfectly. As an extra touch, I have created an impressive feature parquet floor with two-toned leaves – bet Charles the Third didn’t include such character to his fussy construction – and ensure that the weaving is uniform and tight – well pretty tight. I am ready to invite Eloise to inspect my second attempt.
“This better be an improvement on your last effort, Harvey Weaver,” she chirps, hopping through the entry. She squints her eyes near shut, scrutinising the entry and exit holes. “Hmmmmm, much better,” she chirps. My breast swells with pride.
Then she inspects the walls of the tunnel. “Perfect symmetry, impressive,” she tweets. With one wing on my rapidly beating heart, my head tilted to the sky above I open my beak, and begin singing, “I got… .”
“Not so fast, Harvey Weaver. What do you call this nonsense?” And she tugs at a leaf in my parquet floor, tearing it to shreds.
“Sweetheart! That’s my feature parquet floor.”
“A feature parquet floor, indeed. You cannot pull the feathers over my eyes by covering-up your shoddy workmanship with this absurd feature.” Then she exit’s the nest, her chest puffed out not in pride but in anger and with a herculean effort, shoves the nest from the fork. I watch in anguish as my nest, once again, tumbles to the ground.
“I’m going to my mothers and when I return in three days, she will accompany me for the inspection. I expect to see a perfect, built to code, Sparrow Weaver Nest. Is that understood?”
My feathers are quite ruffled by this stage and feeling rejected – not something I am accustomed to – I tweet in my most endearing tone, “Yes sweetheart, understood. Perhaps you’d fancy a feature octagonal window to enhance our little love nest?”
“Stick to the code, Harvey Weaver. Stick to the code!” and off she flies.
Again I hear the shrieking laughter from above.
I spend the next three days gathering twigs, and tightly weaving them together. I snip off the raggedy ends. I align the entry and exit holes with precision and agonise over creating a perfectly smooth, symmetrical tunnel. I constantly check and re-check the building code. At the end of the third day, I anxiously await the return of my sweet Eloise.
What if she doesn’t return? What if some other weaver sparrow has enticed her into his nest and I have lost her for ever? I peer over the branches to see Charles the Third hopping around his perfect nest, looking very pleased with himself. My heart sinks.
As the sun descends beyond the horizon, I see my Eloise swooping towards the tree, towards my nest and I spread my wings in happy anticipation, and just as she threatened, she has brought her mother along!
Landing beside the nest, Eloise tweets, “My mother will inspect the nest with me. You can wait outside for our verdict,” and into the nest they hop. I listen intently, hearing only mutterings and subdued tweeting. Finally, mother and daughter emerge, deep in conversation.
Hopping from foot to foot, I weakly chirp, “And the verdict?”
Mother and daughter hug, peck cheek to cheek and with a nod in my direction, Eloise’s mum flies away.
Eloise comes closer, spreads her wings, embraces me tightly and begins singing, “I’ve got you, babe!”